The silos of Beirut at the heart of the debate on the memory of the explosion of a port

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BEIRUT (AP) – Ghassan Hasrouty spent most of his life working in silos in the port of Beirut, unloading shipments of grain to feed the country even as fighting raged around him during the 1975 civil war- 90.

Decades later, it perished under the same silos, their imposing cement structure eviscerated by the force of the August 4 explosion at the port., When 2,750 tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrates ignited in what became one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

In a horrible moment, an explosion of power ravages Beirut. More than 200 people died and horror and devastation marked the survivors.

Hasrouty’s son Elie wants justice for his father and believes the silos should remain as a ‘mark of shame’ and a reminder of the corruption and neglect of politicians that many Lebanese blame for the tragedy .

A study commissioned by the government in the aftermath of the disaster says the 50-year-old silos could collapse at any time and should be demolished, sparking an emotional debate among city residents on how to preserve the memory of the tragedy.

In Lebanon, where a culture of impunity has long prevailed and perpetrators of violent attacks, bombings and assassinations have rarely been brought to justice, the debate is steeped in suspicion.

Sara Jaafar thinks the government wants to erase the silos and move forward as if nothing happened. “It’s a reminder of what they did,” said Jaafar, an architect whose apartment overlooking the silos was destroyed in the explosion.

“I never want to lose the anger I have,” she said.

Just days after the catastrophic explosion, as public outrage escalated, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned, saying the country’s endemic corruption was “greater than the state”.

The massive 48-meter-high silos absorbed much of the blast’s impact, effectively protecting the western part of the city from the blast that damaged or completely destroyed thousands of buildings.

The investigation into how such a large amount of dangerous chemicals were improperly stored for years under the noses of the port authority and the political leadership at large has continued. Rights groups and families fear this is a tactic to protect senior officials, none of whom have so far been detained or charged with wrongdoing.

More than four months later, rotting wheat trickles from the shredded but still standing silos, which stored up to 85% of Lebanon’s grain. Pigeons and rodents have found their home among the wrecks.

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered for the government-mandated expert team, spent several weeks using a laser scanner to collect digital data for an analysis of the silo structure after the explosion.

Although they may appear structurally sound from afar, the silos are tilted and their foundation is broken, causing vertical cracks in two of them. They could collapse at any time, Durand said, although it’s impossible to calculate when.

“Silos are very strong as long as they are intact, just like an egg,” said Durand. “Now, if the eggshell is slightly broken, it becomes very weak and you will have no difficulty crushing it. ”

The military intends to demolish the silos with equipment that crushes concrete and rebar, Durand said. Kuwait, which funded the construction of the silos in the 1970s, offered to donate to rebuild them.

Then came a proposal from Fadi Abboud, former Minister of Tourism and member of the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement, to turn the port and silos into a “tourist attraction”, a site that would rival the Roman ruins of Baalbek.

The families of the victims protested, calling it a heartless commercialization of the site where so many people have died.

“In their dreams!” promised Gilbert Karaan, whose fiancee of 27, firefighter doctor Sahar Fares, died fighting the blaze that erupted just before the explosion. “They will not take advantage of the martyrs.”

Jonathan Dagher, a reporter for the independent online media platform Megaphone, said Abboud’s remarks were in line with comments from Gebran Bassil, the party leader, who said the explosion could be turned into a “great opportunity. To get international support for Lebanon’s money. government attached.

“These words are no accident” and downplay the tragedy of what happened, Dagher said.

There are fears that the port explosion will be treated in the same way as the civil war that has lasted 15 years in Lebanon.

War is not taught in textbooks. There is no memorial for the 17,000 who died in the war. A general amnesty allowed warlords and militia leaders to dominate the country’s post-war politics. After the war, downtown Beirut was quickly rebuilt, an upscale business hub emerging from ruins and devastation.

Jaafar, the architect, said the refusal to demolish the silos stems from fear that a similar scenario, based on a “concept of amnesia” – if you don’t see it, it hasn’t happened – is being designed for August 4th. explosion.

Lebanese architect Carlos Mubarak said the eviscerated silos should remain in place, their size forever echoing the massive explosion.

“There is something very, very powerful about silos,” he said. “They are now part of the collective memory of the people”.

Mubarak designed a memorial park at the site, with the silos as a focal point, a ring of remembrance at the crater, a museum and a green space. The goal, he said, is to honor the victims and survivors while capturing the spirit of solidarity among the Lebanese in the aftermath of the explosion. He is now trying to find ways to finance it.

Elie Hasrouty’s father and grandfather had both worked in the silos since their construction.

His father, Ghassan, 59, called home 40 minutes before the explosion to tell his wife that a new shipment of grain would be holding him there late and asked him to send his favorite pillow and sheets for her. unforeseen night at work.

His remains were found at the bottom of the silos 14 days later.

The silos must remain “witnesses of corruption, so that we can learn,” Hasrouty said. “Something has to change.”

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